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10-22-14 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - State’s Top Democrats Take Stock of Education Reforms in the Offing…Sweeney, Prieto say they mostly support Common Core and related testing, but predict big adjustments ahead for NJ schools<P>NJ Spotlight - Opinion: NJ’s Teachers Union: Implosion, Irrelevance, or Evolution?...The NJEA’s shift on charter schools is emblematic of its struggles with shifting situation in education -- in the state and beyond<P> NJ Spotlight - Arbitrator Rules Newark Teacher Must Be Rehired, Given Back Pay…Decision says schools Superintendent Cami Anderson was premature in citing dismissal guidelines in state’s new tenure law

 

NJ Spotlight - State’s Top Democrats Take Stock of Education Reforms in the Offing

John Mooney | October 22, 2014

Sweeney, Prieto say they mostly support Common Core and related testing, but predict big adjustments ahead for NJ schools

With New Jersey deep into incorporating the Common Core State Standards and about to debut new online tests for its public schools, the state’s Legislature has been caught in the position of having little say at this point -- but still talking and hearing plenty about it.

At an education conference yesterday, the state’s two top Democratic legislative leaders took the opportunity to say their piece on the school reforms -- and on where the state is heading next.

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Christie Sticks to the Middle of the Road in PARCC Decision

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both speaking on a panel about the politics of the Common Core, said they were largely supportive of the Christie administration’s path so far.

But they were also clearly keeping open their options as debate continues to swirl around the standards and especially their much-argued testing, known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Sweeney, arguably the second-most-powerful politician in the state at the moment and said to have an eye on the governor’s seat in 2017, said the deal struck with Gov. Chris Christie this summer, minimizing the use of the new testing in teacher evaluations for at least a year, was a positive step.

“It was a move to find compromise,” the Gloucester County Democrat said during the event held at Middlesex County College in Edison. ‘We saw all the issues, and while everyone wants to win, how about we get it right? That’s where I’m coming from.”

Still, Sweeney said questions remain about how ready the schools are, or even whether the state as a whole is fully prepared for the changes: “The concept of Common Core is great, but it’s the implementation that’s really the issue and how we make it work.”

Prieto, a Hudson County Democrat, also said the state’s adoption of the new standards and tests remains a “work in progress,” even if there appears to be relative calm at the moment as the state enters this pivotal year.

He said New Jersey’s schools will face some major adjustments, and didn’t discount the millions of dollars in costs that are likely to be incurred in training and technology.

He mentioned that he took some sample questions from the new PARCC tests, including the one for fourth-grade math.

“I saw the first question, and I really challenge some high school kids to answer that,” Prieto said. “It is going to be an interesting challenge, trying to get this accomplished.”

“It’s going to be a period that evolves, and for me, there are still a lot of questions.”

The event, called the Statewide Conference on the Common Core Standards Initiative, was hosted by the New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance, a relatively new coalition of business groups and pro-reform organizations, led by Excellent Education for Everyone. Known as E3, the group is maybe best known for having led the so-far-unsuccessful school-voucher push in the state.

Also at the conference was acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, who spoke briefly spoke about the department’s progress in implementing the Common Core and PARCC, and former Gov. Thomas Kean, the keynote speaker, who said they state needs to make the transition to the new national standards.

A complete archived livestream of the event is here.

The Common Core and the related testing have been a hot topic of late, both in New Jersey and nationwide -- more than 40 states have signed on to the Common Core standards, but two states recently pulled out of the coalition and three more are considering the dropping out, amid debates over the future impact of the new standards and testing.

New Jersey is among those states that are still fully committed, with strong support from Christie, but the administration has nonetheless has faced stiff headwinds of opposition, especially to the new testing tied to the standards. The PARCC assessments, to be given through computer platforms for the first time, start this coming spring.

The Legislature itself had little say when the state adopted the standards in 2010. It was the 13-member State Board of Education -- appointed by the executive branch -- that officially cast the vote to adopt the Common Core standards. Although the Legislature also signed off on federal applications that included the Common Core adoption, there had been little to no political debate.

But debate has picked up since then, and the Legislature has addressed a series of bills aimed at slowing down the implementation in one way or another.

It was one such bill – which passed the Assembly and was on its way in the state Senate last summer -- that led to the deal with Christie lowering the bar for how much the PARCC tests will mean in the next two years.

The deal remains incomplete, however, as Christie in that compromise issued an executive order that called for formation of a state commission to examine the influence and effectiveness of both current testing and the new testing.

The commission -- promised in July -- has yet to be even appointed by Christie. And it faces its first deadline for a report in December, offering little time for the promised public input.

Sweeney yesterday said he could not say why that commission had yet to be named, let alone convened, although he noted that there is a lot on the state’s to-do list at the moment.

“We have a lot of things to get done, a lot of task forces, but the sooner this one gets done, the better,” Sweeney said. “There have been discussions with the front office.”

An email request for comment from Christie’s office was unsuccessful.

While Hespe spoke for the administration later, state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) was the panel’s lone Republican legislator and also commended the direction being taken so far.

He was also cautious about what was to come – at one point calling the endeavor an “experiment” -- but said the effort will be worth it.

“Will it take up more time, yes,” he said “But ultimately, we need to have a test that is consistent throughout the region and throughout the country in order to assess and know where we re most wisely using our education dollars.”

He was joined on the panel by Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington, DC, think-tank, and Amy Fratz, associate director at the New Jersey Education Association. NJ Spotlight’s John Mooney served as moderator of the panel.

 

NJ Spotlight - Opinion: NJ’s Teachers Union: Implosion, Irrelevance, or Evolution?

Laura Waters | October 21, 2014

The NJEA’s shift on charter schools is emblematic of its struggles with shifting situation in education -- in the state and beyond

 

Last Thursday, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer and as he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of NJ’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters.

Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For over a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did Thursday, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.

That shift is dangerous: Unions run the risk of alienating more moderate members and their Democratic base, including influential NJ legislators like Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Senator Ruiz (D-Essex), and most national Democrats. They also invite the perception that the mission of teachers unions is less about improving education and more about protecting market share.

For example, in 2010 NJEA President Barbara Keshishian remarked that “public charter schools have been part of the public education landscape in New Jersey” for 15 years and “a well-established part of N.J.’s public school system.” Last Thursday President Steinhauer testified, “the corporatized charter school model ... disenfranchise[s] community members ...We also propose a temporary moratorium on the approval of new charter schools.”

It’s not hard to understand the reasons for that shift in tone from careful support of alternative public schools (where teachers aren’t required to unionize and pay union dues) to harsher language. It’s been a tough few years for teachers unions. The Vergara case this past summer in Los Angeles undermined tenure rights, a pending federal Supreme Court case could make union membership voluntary, and some pension systems like New Jersey’s are insolvent.

According to a recent Gallup poll, public support for teachers unions fell below 50 percent for the first time ever in 2012. According to a recent Harvard/EducationNext survey, the percentage of Americans who see teachers unions as a negative influence on schools and education policy soared to 43 percent, and only 32 percent of the public support tenure. Membership and revenue (almost all from dues) is down, although the NEA and AFT are still the King Kongs of K Street, spending about $700 million per year on lobbying.

Just as worrisome for union leaders is the rapid growth of internal rebel outposts like the Badass Teachers Association (BAT). More locally, Newark Education Workers (NEW), a coalition within the Newark Teachers Union whose delegates just took over the Executive Board on the coattails of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s tin ear, are demanding a more militant stance.

This is not Norman Rockwell’s vision of the American teacher.

At this past summer’s NEA convention, delegates demanded the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s appointee. (Another humiliation: Secretary Duncan didn’t care.) The new president of the NEA, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, told Politico that data-infused teacher evaluations are “the mark of the devil” and while visiting Camden remarked that “we are sitting on something here. We are at more than a crossroads. This is gonna blow.” AFT President Randi Weingarten, who is now recruiting half her membership from other service industries like nursing and healthcare, told her teacher membership, with a wink, that it’s time to be “a little bad ass.”

Closer to home, NEW hollers, “the old guard keeps the local sclerotic, disoriented, and vision-less. Time for Newark teachers to occupy their union!” NJEA endorses rising Democratic star U.S. Senator Cory Booker and irate Bob Braun, a NEW evangelist, wails, “[t]he NJEA endorsement is a propaganda rug woven carefully and deliberately of self-serving and cynical lies. The people who run the union simply cannot be so stupid or delusional or naďve that they don’t recognize what they are doing.”

NEA President Eskelsen Garcia is right: Teachers unions are at a crossroads. Do leaders appease their militant factions by amping up attacks on school choice and accountability while defending archaic teacher-tenure laws? Or do they maintain political influence among Democrats and moderates by accepting decreases in market share through the expansion of non-traditional public school models like charters?

On Thursday Pres. Steinhauer tried to have it both way, but it’s unclear if this triangulation is the best strategy for the NJEA to pursue. In the end, he’s just offering something to offend everybody. NEW- and BAT-aligned members (and a very few legislators) will resent any support for charter schools. Moderate members and most of the Legislature will never impose a moratorium, especially with 20,000 New Jersey students on charter school waiting lists. Still, it’s unfair to lay this all at the feet of President Steinhauer. He’s trapped in an internecine war and right now, if the shift in rhetoric among union leaders is a barometer, the rigid antireform side is winning. That’s bad news for teachers unions, which will continue to move further away from political moderates and most of America. In doing so, they’ll court their own irrelevance.

Laura Waters writes about education politics and policy for NJ Spotlight and other publications. She also blogs at NJ Left Behind and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township (Mercer County) for 10 years.

 

NJ Spotlight - Arbitrator Rules Newark Teacher Must Be Rehired, Given Back Pay

John Mooney | October 21, 2014

Decision says schools Superintendent Cami Anderson was premature in citing dismissal guidelines in state’s new tenure law

Amid all the debate surrounding her tenure as state-appointed leader of New Jersey’s largest school district, Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson has taken special pride being able to retain and reward exemplary teachers while removing the poor ones.

But Anderson was dealt a setback last week when a state-appointed arbitrator rejected the first of dozens of tenure charges filed by Anderson, saying she had jumped the gun when she tried to use the state’s new tenure law to remove a teacher.

Related Links

In the Matter of Tenure Charge Against Sandra Cheatham

Anderson and the Newark Public Schools had maintained in the tenure charges filed against teacher Sandra Cheatham that she had received two consecutive years of “ineffective” or “partially effective” ratings, apparent grounds for losing her tenure protections under the new law, known as TEACHNJ.

But arbitrator Stephen Bluth found that the law itself had only been in effect since 2013, adding that while the district had run its evaluation system the year before on a pilot basis, it did not count toward the state’s law applicability.

“In my view, the ‘clock’ began with the 2013-14 school year,” Bluth wrote.

The decision delivers a blow to Anderson’s hopes to pull the tenure protections of more than 50 teachers, in many cases citing TEACHNJ provisions. Nearly half of those teachers resigned before their cases reached state arbitrators, Anderson said last week, with the rest awaiting judgment under the arbitration system.

Whether all the remaining cases relied on the same argument as Cheatham’s case was unclear, and a district spokesman did not respond yesterday to two emailed requests for comment.

But the Newark Teachers Union, which represented Cheatham and the bulk of the remaining teachers, said the decision was an affirmation of its members’ right to due process. The union said the ruling would affect up to two-dozen cases now under review.

“This is the premier defense we used in these cases, that the law had clearly stated that 2012-13 was not to be used,” Gene Liss, the NTU’s chief counsel, said last night. “The department specifically said that, but (Anderson) forged ahead anyway and instituted these cases.”

Still, there was some question about how much one arbitrator’s decision would influence rulings by other arbitrators. Not a judicial process under the law, an arbitrator’s ruling doesn’t carry the same precedential weight as a judge’s decision.

“Others don’t have to follow it, but we’re hoping they do,” Liss said. “It was judicially sound, and we are hoping it will be the guidemark.”

Liss also acknowledged while the teacher and the NTU won this case, it could only be putting off the inevitable.

More tenure-charges cases are sure to resurface next year, when the law will have been in effect for two full -- and undisputed – years. He said he suspects hundreds of such cases will have been filed by the Newark district in that time, and that he has heard of similar numbers being likely in other large state-run districts such as Camden and Paterson.

“How’s the state going to handle 300-400 of these next year?” he said,

Bluth’s decision went into considerable detail in discussing how Anderson and her lawyers, at least for one year, tried to conform -- and arguably contort -- the law to fit with Newark’s teacher-evaluation system.

For example, he wrote that while Newark was among a handful of districts across the state that served as pilot programs to test the new evaluation system, there were some stark differences between the how to pilot program operated compared to the way it worked when the law actually went into effect, including differences in the number of classroom observations required for each teacher’s evaluation.

“For all the reasons delineated therein, I find the district erred when it discharged (Cheatham)….” Bluth wrote. “Appropriately, I determine, the remedy is reinstatement with full back pay and benefits.”

 

NJ Spotlight - Opinion: NJ’s Teachers Union: Implosion, Irrelevance, or Evolution?

Laura Waters | October 21, 2014

The NJEA’s shift on charter schools is emblematic of its struggles with shifting situation in education -- in the state and beyond

Last Thursday, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer and as he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of NJ’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters.

Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For over a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did Thursday, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.

That shift is dangerous: Unions run the risk of alienating more moderate members and their Democratic base, including influential NJ legislators like Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Senator Ruiz (D-Essex), and most national Democrats. They also invite the perception that the mission of teachers unions is less about improving education and more about protecting market share.

For example, in 2010 NJEA President Barbara Keshishian remarked that “public charter schools have been part of the public education landscape in New Jersey” for 15 years and “a well-established part of N.J.’s public school system.” Last Thursday President Steinhauer testified, “the corporatized charter school model ... disenfranchise[s] community members ...We also propose a temporary moratorium on the approval of new charter schools.”

It’s not hard to understand the reasons for that shift in tone from careful support of alternative public schools (where teachers aren’t required to unionize and pay union dues) to harsher language. It’s been a tough few years for teachers unions. The Vergara case this past summer in Los Angeles undermined tenure rights, a pending federal Supreme Court case could make union membership voluntary, and some pension systems like New Jersey’s are insolvent.

According to a recent Gallup poll, public support for teachers unions fell below 50 percent for the first time ever in 2012. According to a recent Harvard/EducationNext survey, the percentage of Americans who see teachers unions as a negative influence on schools and education policy soared to 43 percent, and only 32 percent of the public support tenure. Membership and revenue (almost all from dues) is down, although the NEA and AFT are still the King Kongs of K Street, spending about $700 million per year on lobbying.

Just as worrisome for union leaders is the rapid growth of internal rebel outposts like the Badass Teachers Association (BAT). More locally, Newark Education Workers (NEW), a coalition within the Newark Teachers Union whose delegates just took over the Executive Board on the coattails of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s tin ear, are demanding a more militant stance.

This is not Norman Rockwell’s vision of the American teacher.

At this past summer’s NEA convention, delegates demanded the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s appointee. (Another humiliation: Secretary Duncan didn’t care.) The new president of the NEA, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, told Politico that data-infused teacher evaluations are “the mark of the devil” and while visiting Camden remarked that “we are sitting on something here. We are at more than a crossroads. This is gonna blow.” AFT President Randi Weingarten, who is now recruiting half her membership from other service industries like nursing and healthcare, told her teacher membership, with a wink, that it’s time to be “a little bad ass.”

Closer to home, NEW hollers, “the old guard keeps the local sclerotic, disoriented, and vision-less. Time for Newark teachers to occupy their union!” NJEA endorses rising Democratic star U.S. Senator Cory Booker and irate Bob Braun, a NEW evangelist, wails, “[t]he NJEA endorsement is a propaganda rug woven carefully and deliberately of self-serving and cynical lies. The people who run the union simply cannot be so stupid or delusional or naďve that they don’t recognize what they are doing.”

NEA President Eskelsen Garcia is right: Teachers unions are at a crossroads. Do leaders appease their militant factions by amping up attacks on school choice and accountability while defending archaic teacher-tenure laws? Or do they maintain political influence among Democrats and moderates by accepting decreases in market share through the expansion of non-traditional public school models like charters?

On Thursday Pres. Steinhauer tried to have it both way, but it’s unclear if this triangulation is the best strategy for the NJEA to pursue. In the end, he’s just offering something to offend everybody. NEW- and BAT-aligned members (and a very few legislators) will resent any support for charter schools. Moderate members and most of the Legislature will never impose a moratorium, especially with 20,000 New Jersey students on charter school waiting lists. Still, it’s unfair to lay this all at the feet of President Steinhauer. He’s trapped in an internecine war and right now, if the shift in rhetoric among union leaders is a barometer, the rigid antireform side is winning. That’s bad news for teachers unions, which will continue to move further away from political moderates and most of America. In doing so, they’ll court their own irrelevance.

Laura Waters writes about education politics and policy for NJ Spotlight and other publications. She also blogs at NJ Left Behind and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township (Mercer County) for 10 years.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828